Shining a light on at-risk youth

Transactional relationships. That’s the term staff at the Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society are learning this year as the trend becomes more prominent in School District 43.

Transactional relationships.

That’s the term staff at the Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society are learning this year as the trend becomes more prominent in School District 43.

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The phrase can have many meanings, depending on the couple, but generally it refers to an adult giving money, gifts and/or drugs to a minor in exchange for sex. And the balance of power typically rests with the older person.

Tiana Jacquet, program director for the society, which has its office on Austin Avenue, said such controlling relationships are “quite prominent. I think people would be surprised.”

She added, “It doesn’t matter where the youth are being raised or what kind of family support they have. It comes down to a want and adults prey on that vulnerability.”

This spring, society facilitators heard some of the students’ stories as part of the eighth annual Youth Art Engagement Project. Over the course of nine sessions, youth at three schools shared heart-breaking tales of being sexually exploited; later, they expressed themselves using paints — or other media — and a canvas.

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Next Wednesday, at the Winslow Centre in Coquitlam, 55 program participants will exhibit their social justice images for a one-night Youth Art Gallery Celebration, a gathering to show how far they’ve come in their healing process.

Each art piece will have an artist’s statement to describe the work and reasons why it was created. Some speak of sex slavery — for example, depicting the back of a naked woman wrapped in chains, with a Sold sign — while others tell of addictions. There are also scenes of gang violence, gender socialization and peer-to-peer exploitation.

Jacquet said the teens who took part were either referred by a counsellor or self-identified to a society facilitator during a routine workshop.

Overall, the sessions have “allow them to channel their energies in a positive way. For a lot of the kids, they aren’t able to converse easily in the beginning because they are scared or traumatized — their relationships have become normalized — but, by the end, they are able to vocalize their thoughts and feelings and put that down. It’s quite a journey.”

• The Youth Art Gallery Celebration runs Wednesday, June 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Winslow Centre (1100 Winslow Ave., Coquitlam). Guests are encouraged to dress up for the hippie-theme party. The Youth Art Engagement Project is sponsored in part by Beedie Cares, CKNW Kids Fund and Coast Capital Savings.

jcleugh@tricitynews.com 

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